Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: New People

New People New People by Danzy Senna
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was once a PhD student in ethnomusicology, so to find a protagonist with that shared experience was a huge surprise and definitely added a start to my reading of this novel. I loved Maria and her weird obsessions, but she did start making puzzling decisions near the end. I enjoyed the ongoing discussion of identity within biracial realities, and am intrigued/terrified of the music of Jonestown!

Thanks to the publisher for providing an eARC through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elizabeth Smart was in a longterm relationship with the poet George Barker, even having four children with him. During that time he was married. So her life did not go the way she really wanted it to, and her longing for him permeates this book. Published in 1945, it is one of the earlier examples of "poetic prose," and the mention on the back cover that it is like Anais Nin and Djuna Barnes makes me want to read both of them; in my reading experience it is closest to Jeannette Winterson, one of the authors I love and adore.

That said, I don't think this would be for everyone. It is FLOWERY and DRAMATIC and would almost feel like teenaged angst except the metaphors and allusions are very literary and almost over my head at times. I have a hard time picturing armpits like chalices, and in moments like this, she does lose me a bit.

But I was in a reading slump, and it was so different from what I was slogging through, that I enjoyed immersing into her emotions. This is considered a novel (or novella, as it is only 98 pages) because while her emotions are probably the same, the person who is the narrator in the book only has the one child.

I understand that a later book, which actually occupies the second half of this printing, The Assumption of Rogues and Rascals, tells a much less emotional tale of raising four children alone. I might read it after rereading this one.

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Review: When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this the day it was named to the National Book Award for Poetry longlist for 2017. In one of the poems, Chen Chen mentions that a friend told him that all his friends are about being gay and Chinese (which has also made that poem about being gay and Chinese!) I loved the playful language, exploration of identity, and had fun reading some of these out loud.

My favorites:
Race to the Tree

Talented Human Beings
"Every day I am asked to care about white people
especially if they've been kidnapped overseas...."

In the City - this starts with declarations about engineering and dumplings and becomes a very deeply felt about his parents and their disappointments, wow, so good

Kafka's Axe & Michael's Vest
"...Think of peace & how the Buddhists say it is found through silence
Think of silence & how Audre Lorde says it will not protect you...."

In This Economy
"People person seeks paid internship in liking you as a friend...."

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Thoughts on the Man Booker Prize 2017

A few hours now before the short list is announced, I thought I would weigh in on the Man Booker Prize. I have at least tasted all of these. I bailed on one, am in process with four, and finished the rest, and I'd say that's the farthest I've come on a long list since I started following the Man Booker Prize. Perhaps *I* deserve an award. Just saying.

Official site: The Man Booker Prize

Photo courtesy of Man Booker Prize Website

The Long List, with my thoughts:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
My thoughts: This is one I have only read 50 pages of so far. I've never finished anything by Auster, and this one reads very well. I like the concept I think, although at 50 pages in I've only seen one version of the character. On the other hand I often get annoyed when I get deep into a literary author experimenting with something science fiction has done for decades, so my judgment is still out.
What I think the judges will think: Since Americans are so new to the prize, they haven't had many sweeping New York novels in the pool. This is definitely one. But I think they awarded the prize to an American last year. I think they will be more interested in the experiment in this one than in the sweep. But if they're up for experiment, Saunders may be more of a favorite.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
My thoughts: Ah, this is the one I bailed on. It never felt authentic to me. The language too elevated, the setting too contrived. I could tell it was not going to work for me!
What I think the judges will think: I think Barry is probably a favorite and they will see this as a unique story.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
My thoughts: I wouldn't have included this book in the long list. I'm interested in the themes but did not think they were well executed, and that the parts of the novel lack cohesion.
What I think the judges will think: This is a decent debut that deserved attention but is not short list material.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
My thoughts: Ultimately I was not satisfied with the door concept, feeling like it actually took the risk out of the refugee journey.
What I think the judges will think: Timely, brilliant, short list material.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
My thoughts: I had to push to finish it, and found the experiment far outweighed the content. Before I read it, I expected this to be a favorite.
What I think the judges will think: As one of four experimental titles, I think they are looking for something that feels fresh. I think they will like the symbolism and the craft, and place a finer point on it. I think this one OR the McGregor will make the short list but not both.

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4th Estate)
My thoughts: A girl disappears and the novel becomes more about the tiny parts of the town over time. It reminded me of Olaf Stapledon (science fiction again) in one of his novels about millions of years of a solar system. I enjoyed the writing but found the pace excruciating.
What I think the judges will think: I think they will select either this or the McCormack for the short list. Both seem to fit together in strange ways, almost like two stories in the same town. I think they will think the non-crime focus of what is presented as a crime novel as "flipping the script" rather than bad copy.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
My thoughts: I'm only 50 pages in or so and haven't decided what I think. It reminds me of a combination of Room by Emma Donaghue and These Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, both novels I enjoyed, about a life on the fringes with a twinge of darkness.
What I think the judges will think: I think if a first-time novel ends up on the short list, this will be some judge's dark horse over the Fridlund.

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
My thoughts: I read 50 pages and really enjoyed them, then set aside the book for books that would have due dates or expiration dates. That's right, I purchased this one outright, because I enjoyed Roy's previous Booker Prize winner so much.
What I think the judges will think: It has to go in the short list. Roy's first novel in 20 years, since the last time she won the prize? With up to date thematic elements that are so 21st century when the last one was so 20th century? I think they'd be embarrassed to exclude it. The prize can be a bit traditional in that sense.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury Publishing)
My thoughts: I have met George and love his short stories, and I really enjoyed the audio of this book once I got in the right groove. It is more experimental than it needed to be but the center was very good. I liked seeing him stretch his wings and then not write a traditional novel, but rather one that felt like essay.
What I think the judges will think: I think they will be most interested in the bardo element, although I think they will not have the audio experience to rely on, which surely for me led to a higher rating. It is possible this will make the short list.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury Circus)
My thoughts: This was very readable but I did not like the shoehorn of the novel into the myth. Shamsie seemed so focused on this idea that some important plot and character threads get dropped. If you are comparing novels by UK-Pakistani writers from this list, Hamid is more even, but not as enjoyable to read.
What I think the judges will think: The opposite of my qualms about the myth, I think they will be impressed by that element. It was enough to make the long list but possibly the flaws will keep it from the short list.

Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
My thoughts: I loved this novel, definitely my favorite of the list. Ali Smith is a beautiful writer. And as much as people want to call this a post-Brexit novel, those elements are background. This is also an unusual love story/friendship with another thread about a female pop artist. I learned a lot and paused a lot and enjoyed the reading experience.
What I think the judges will think: We fucked up in 2014 and Ali should have won that year. Definitely a shortlist contender.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
My thoughts: I don't think this is Smith's strongest. I keep forgetting it is on this list.
What I think the judges will think: While Ali Smith and Arundhati Roy deserve repeat appearances on the short list, some of the more interesting experiments eclipse this novel.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)
My thoughts: I put off reading this for a long time because of the hype machine but I do think it is doing something interesting. I'm just halfway through so I'm just starting to see the point of some of these train stops and liking the possibilities. If I had to choose between magical doors, I might pick this over Hamid.
What I think the judges will think: This book has already won SO many prizes. Probably enough to put it in the short list (possibly bumping Saunders or Hamid) but maybe we can give the actual award to one of the others... being awarded the Man Booker should be the top, right? It would really be something for this one book to gain the National Book Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award (?!?), the Pulitzer, and selected by Oprah! It almost makes it too popular to win. The Man Booker is literary, dammit.

My guess at the short list:

Autumn by Ali Smith
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Elmet by  Fiona Mozley

Reading Envy 095: Lose the Outside World with Lindy Pratch

Lindy is a Canadian reader who joins Jenny to talk about books we've read recently. You will learn about Lindy's interesting book clubs, authors from Alberta, and how books can form movies in your mind. Please forgive Jenny's voice as she suffered a coughing fit. The coughs were edited out but the voice struggled at the end!

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 095: Lose the Outside World with Lindy Pratch

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Books featured:

The Heavy Bear by Tim Bowling
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
Monoceros by Suzette Mayr
The Amputee's Guide to Sex by Jillian Weise
Nuala by Kimmy Beach
August by Romina Paula

Other mentions:

Nobody Cries at Bingo by Dawn Dumont
Ariel by Sylvia Plath
Delmore Schwartz
Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall by Suzette Mayr
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
Giant marionettes
Autumn by Ali Smith
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Everything is Flammable by Gabrielle Bell
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Stalk us online:

Lindy Reads and Reviews (blog)
Lindy on Twitter
Lindy is @Lindy on Litsy
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: Solar Bones

Solar Bones Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to read this book when I read its description; I don't think I would have pushed through to the end if it hadn't been on the Man Booker Prize Long List.

To me, it suffers from what many experimental novels do - too much experiment with no clear purpose. I have read many stream of consciousness works. Most memorable to me (and the least known) is the first chapter of Narcopolis, something I probably could have read for the entire work but the author decided to step back from it and just write the novel after doing it for about 7 pages. How I wish Mike McCormack had made a similar decision!

When you don't have sentences that end and you don't use dialogue markings, you don't give your narrator a chance to take a breath. It may not seem like the narrator needs one, but actually, he or she does. See how I created breaths in the previous sentence by just adding commas? It's funny that my previous review is of a book about radio storytelling, because she has an entire section on signposts and how important they are to a listener. By creating a space to stop and think, to ponder, to absorb a difficult concept, you are engaging the listener. You are asking them to come with you on your journey. When you don't do that, then you are saying you don't give a shit and they're either going to follow you or you will leave them behind.

That is unfortunate, because I think there are some beautiful moments in the prose. But I never felt like I could stop and be with them for a moment or make a note of them because the narrator was still incessantly droning on! There is an overarching structure of sorts that is spoiled by other reviews so don't read them but by the time I reached the end I'd forgotten the beginning because anything important I thought I'd read was taken over by artistic protests and pages and pages of sickness and vomit.

So clearly this is not my style. I'm feeling put out at put myself through it. Depending on the mindset of this year's Man Booker judges, this one might make the shortlist because sometimes experiment is valued above other things. It does have some strange parallels to another title on the longlist - Reservoir 13, in fact I could see the events occurring at the same time, in a strange way.

tl; dr - Solar Bones - most anticipated, ultimately unfulfilling.

I was provided a copy by the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review, based on my request.

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Review: Out on the Wire: Uncovering the Secrets of Radio's New Masters of Story with Ira Glass

Out on the Wire: Uncovering the Secrets of Radio's New Masters of Story with Ira Glass Out on the Wire: Uncovering the Secrets of Radio's New Masters of Story with Ira Glass by Jessica Abel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since I didn't read Jessica Abel's previous book on radio, Radio: An Illustrated Guide, I had no idea this would be in graphic novel format. That took a while to get used to and at first I wasn't sure it needed the graphics or even worked in that format, but I quickly changed my mind. I soon realized that Jessica was identifying an element of radio storytelling and then also illustrating it in graphical form. But not like a diagram, kind of like a meta graphic, with the radio hosts she is interviewing performing the element well. It's hard to explain. Like she says in her epilogue, you need the book to understand the book.

I'm always looking for ways to be a better podcaster, and the answers must lie in the secrets of successful radio producers. Jessica worked extensively with people from This American Life (not just Ira but also Ira), RadioLab, Snap Judgment, The Moth, and more.

I learned about signposts and realized how much podcasters and radio people use them! I liked learning the controversy between giving the listener a conclusion vs. letting them form their own. I have a lot more to say about it and will probably talk about it on the podcast soon. Meta meta meta. It can't be helped.

And since a speech that Jad Abumrad gave a few years ago helped me keep going on my podcast, I was so pleased to encounter his German forest story again.

This is a book I need to own. It also makes me want to go back to teaching my storytelling class, armed with new ideas and strategies.

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